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EDITIONS
Monday, 11 March, 2002, 20:04 GMT
British pupils sent to Jamaican school
Wolmer's Boys High School
Wolmer's is built around a cricket oval
British-Caribbean parents are choosing to send their children back to the West Indies for a more traditional education.

In the second of our articles from Jamaica, we spoke to one such family and asked what more might be done to raise the achievement of black boys in British schools.

It is a long way, both geographically and in teaching style, from the schools of north London to those in Kingston, the capital of Jamaica.


The boys might start calling each other names ... but they are not really fighting

Mother and teacher Donna Murray
Yet that is the distance travelled by Donna Murray and her 13-year-old, British-born son, Nkosi.

Donna is one of a growing number of British parents of African-Caribbean origin who feel happier to have their children in Caribbean schools.

Nkosi attended primary school in Neasden but now attends Wolmer's Boys' School, one of Jamaica's most prestigious secondary schools.

Nkosi Murray
Nkosi: "The teachers are stricter"
Behind impressive gates, and set around a cricket oval, Wolmer's high school typifies the traditional British inheritance of Jamaica's school system.

But with neat uniforms, strong Christian ethos, extensive homework, O-levels and A-levels and a firm disciplinary code, Jamaica's schools more closely resemble British schools of the 1950s than of today.

In this lies much of their appeal to British African-Caribbean parents who, very often, see their community's children doing poorly in the English school system.

A 1910 school photo
Proud tradition: A 1910 school photo
Whereas just over 50% of white students achieve five good GCSE passes in England, the figure for black African-Caribbean students is just 37%. Amongst black boys in London the GCSE pass rate is much lower still.

Black Caribbean boys have a poor disciplinary record too, having the highest rate of school exclusion for any ethnic group. Caribbean pupils are 50 times as likely to be expelled as children from a Chinese background.

Parents like Donna, herself a teacher, feel British-Caribbean boys are often unfairly treated because teachers in England do not understand their mannerisms and behaviour.

She says there were times when she first returned to Jamaica when she thought the boys were about to start a fight but eventually she realised it was just their way of harmless messing around.

Donna Murray:
Donna Murray: "Boys' mannerisms misunderstood"
"The teachers sometimes misunderstand the situation," she said.

"For example the boys might start calling each other names - 'idiot' and so on - but they are not really fighting, it's just the way they put themselves across," she said.

In England this boisterous behaviour can be misinterpreted as threatening to a teacher when, Donna insists, that is not how it is intended.

She believes this is one reason why many parents, originally from the Caribbean, send their children back to schools where their behaviour is better understood.

Large but orderly classes

This is not to say that Jamaican schools are a soft touch on discipline. Far from it.

In both primary and secondary schools discipline is firm, even though corporal punishment was recently abolished, at least officially.

In primary schools, pupils may be in large classes - up to 60 pupils sometimes - but they sit in neat, orderly rows and are expected to raise their hand before speaking. The discipline is not harsh but children are expected to show respect.

Boys in King's Gate prep school
Boys in King's Gate prep school
Primary schools are also more traditional than their English counterparts.

The upper years focus heavily on preparation for the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) which is, effectively, an 11-plus exam that determines which secondary school pupils move on to.

Wolmer High only takes pupils who do well in the GSAT and is, in effect, a grammar school.

The firm discipline of primary school is carried on here. Nkosi certainly notices that teachers are more likely than in England to tell pupils off for small indiscretions.

As he puts it: "The teachers are much stricter and they'll punish you for small things like talking, moving your chair or walking too slowly to class."

Gender gap

All is not perfect in Jamaica's schools. They are not nearly as well funded as British or American schools and computers and books are in much shorter supply.

Jamaica also shares Britain's problem of boys' performance lagging behind that of girls.


Role models: England has few black teachers but plenty of black cleaners and catering staff

However, those boys who do stay on in school after 15 or 16 tend to do well.

At Wolmer High most go on to get three or four A-levels and many then go abroad to university.

This is an impressive achievement at a school which, for all its proud 275-year history, now takes pupils from the full cross-section of backgrounds.

Wolmer is a high-achieving school with a strong ethos of learning and achievement. Its principal, Dave Myrie, was born in Britain of Jamaican parents and is only a recent arrival in the Jamaican school system.

Dave Myrie
Dave Myrie: Moved from England
He has had experience of working with black boys in London and can see many of the problems they face by contrast with boys in Jamaica.

In England, he observes, there were few black role models, especially in schools where there were few black teachers but plenty of black cleaners and catering staff.

By contrast, his pupils can see positive black role models all around them. The school's successful old boys are regularly invited to address school assemblies.

What UK could do

He believes Jamaican schools thrive by having "high expectation and firm but fair discipline".

"The bottom line is that students are expected to do well," he said.

Dave Myrie has clear views about how schools and teachers in the UK could do more to help British-Caribbean boys succeed.

"First they need to understand the culture the boys come out of", he said, "as you need to know what makes children tick and that is wrapped up in their cultural background."

He then believes this knowledge must be filtered into teacher training so teaching can be moulded to the pupils rather than "expecting the child to fit a particular mould that the school has".

But while Mr Myrie believes British schools could do better by black boys, he does not agree with any suggestion that there should be black-only schools in Britain.

Black British pupils, he says, live in a multi-cultural society and schools should reflect that.


We welcome your comments at educationnews@bbc.co.uk although we cannot always answer individual e-mails.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mike Baker
"Across Britain ethnic groups are not performing equally"
See also:

11 Mar 02 | Education
07 Jan 02 | Education
28 Feb 02 | Education
23 Jan 01 | Education
21 Aug 00 | Education
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